Thursday, 20 October 2011

Social Media - Harmful or Helpful?

I often blog about social media - the business applications, the triumphs, the evils and the pure fun of it.  I came across this gem today on Social Times, "Has Facebook Become Beneficial or Harmful to Students," which had a really interesting graphic that they invited everyone to share on their websites.  So...have a look at this!

Facebook University
Created by: Online PhD

Thanks to Social Times for encouraging us to share this infographic.  How do you feel about this?  When used with some thoughtful consideration and respect, any form of communication is positive.  Social Media is just the newest tool in the box...and it removes so many barriers.  When the printing press was invented in the mid 1400s it allowed the first printing of the bible, which meant that even the 'common man' would be able to read and interpret it.  It sparked many religious revolutions but with more people (rich and poor) having access to books and learning to read, it built the bridge to cross over from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance.  There's no doubt that Social Media has brought to the 21st century an information revolution.  But, how will it play out?  Where will this bridge lead?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

iPhone Apps for Expats, World Travellers and Writers

As much as I was fighting back and as much as I loved my little Samsung flip phone (it was smart enough for me)… it finally died.  After a brief grieving process, my husband returned from a trip to LA with a new iPhone 4 for me .  After I stopped sulking that I’d been “forced” into the Apple tribe (I recently blogged about the Steep Learning Curve of switching from a Toshiba laptop to a MacBook Pro), I started exploring the wonders of this device that was foisted upon me.

Finding Your Way
I admit, I am getting a little smitten with it but not addicted just yet.  However, my first favorite thing about this new little genius that I carry around in my purse is some of the cool apps that do truly help you get through the day.  Enter the Google Maps application.  Holy cow!  It actually shows exactly where in the entire world I’m standing at that very moment.  I can zoom in for detail or zoom out for orientation (to establish the direction I need to head in order to get where I want to go).  For the directionally challenged (my hand is up in the air), it’s a lifesaver!  I love watching the little blue dot (which is me) come closer to the little red dot (my destination).  This is quite often happening as I’m sitting on the back of our motorbike as my husband weaves his way through the busy traffic of Phuket, Thailand.  It’s best if I don’t look anyway so it gives me something else on which to focus.

Making Yourself Understood
The next amazing little nugget that we found was LingoPal.  For only 99 cents (US) you can carry around your very own translator (and you can choose whatever native language you speak and what language you want translated).  And, there's no need to worry if your pronunciation is crap (in Thailand there are many inflections that make the same word mean tons of different things… you think you’re saying ‘yes’ when you’re really saying ‘cow’ or something equally as ridiculous).  You can just hit the play button and a sweet little Thai lady’s voice melodically delivers the phrase you were innocently butchering so that your puzzled taxi driver/waiter/doctor or any Thai person (or whatever country you're living or traveling in) you’re desperately trying to communicate with, understands.

Global Communications
Of course, there are always Skype, Facebook and Twitter apps for iPhone too.  I always felt that I didn’t need to be connected 24/7 (and still feel that way) and I certainly won’t be typing obliviously away while in the company of others.  But, there are times that I’m sitting by myself in an airport, doctor’s office, restaurant, hairdressers and such that it comes in handy.

For Writers
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a couple for writers.  If I’m on the fly, doing a quick draft of a blog or article and I’m stumped for the right word, I’ve got right there on my iPhone.  It has both a dictionary and thesaurus, gives synonyms and antonyms and even an audio option to give you the right pronunciation or for you to speak your word instead of typing it.  Cool, eh?  Then, for writing guidance and inspiration, there’s the Creativity Portal (it made Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 2011 list of best web sites for writers).  I also devour apps that offer ebooks like Wattpad and Good Reads.

I know these are pretty elementary but it’s probably because I’m such an iPhone newbie, but I just had to share!  What are your favorite apps?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Celebrates 185th Anniversary

Every year, during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the streets of Phuket ring with the sound of loud drumming as mah song are possessed by Chinese Gods and Godesses. Rituals that cleanse and heal take place simultaneously.

As I watched one of the Chinese Goddesses, Ama Hua San Neo Neo, enter the body of Aea, a 14-year-old girl who is the daughter of my friend Thanya, she started writhing and shaking, her eyes rolling back into her head.  Aea is a Shaman or medium, chosen for her purity by the Goddess to be a vessel for messages and guidance, especially during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. 

I joined the other devotees dressed in white from head to toe, and gave praise to each of the Chinese Gods and Goddesses, handing over my burning incense in homage.  Participating in the rituals brings good fortune, good health, brightness and inner peace.  During the celebrations we even burned gold leaf as an offering and in return will have ‘beng ang’ (good luck) and be rewarded with much gold.

The rituals were taking place in Chung Talay Chinese Temple in Bang Tao, Phuket as part of the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival that runs from September 27th through October 5th.  

The festival started in 1825 after a group of opera singers fell ill while visiting Thailand from China to entertain the Chinese tin workers who had settled in Kathu District.  They believed that if they ate a vegetarian diet for three days (the original detox) to honour two of the emperor Gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh, they would be cured… and they were.  

According to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival website: “It later happened that one familiar with the festival volunteered to return to Kansai, in China, where he invited the sacred Hiao Ho-le or Hiao lan (incense smoke) and Lian Tui (name plaques), which have the status of gods, to come stay in Kathu. He also brought holy writings used in the ceremonies, returning to Phuket on the seventh night of the ninth month. The people, upon hearing of his arrival, went in procession to Bang Niao Pier to bring him and his sacred cargo back. This was the origin of the processions that figure so greatly in the festival.”

Once the possession was complete Aea, the embodiment of her Goddess, joined her compatriots who had been simultaneously taken over by other deities.  They are the ‘mah song’ or ‘horses of the Gods’.  They would all carry their new hosts in a procession through town to the next Chinese temple to give praise to the all-mighty chairman, Kiew Ong Tai Tee.

I joined the procession riding in a truck in the company of a group of children who had been given the very important role of percussionists.  They were responsible for keeping up the drumming and clanging of symbols throughout the two-hour long meandering through the streets of Phuket to ward off evil spirits.  It was an exuberant cacophony periodically amplified by others we passed on the roadside who also offered food and drink to the Gods.

It was a joyful day punctuated by dramatic, even shocking demonstrations including self-cutting of the back and lips by some of the mah song with sharp axes (I saw the blood with my own eyes).  They claim that while they are possessed, they feel no pain.  It was so unbelievable as I watched one young man slice his bottom lip open that I couldn’t bring myself to pull my camera out.  But the image will remain in my mind’s eye for a very long time.  He didn’t even flinch.  Such is the strength and passion of his commitment and belief in his religion.

 More detail at: